How to write a believable battle scene?

by Peter Hill

Question: I'm writing a battle sequence that takes place in Boston. I was wondering how do I make it seem realistic, should I focus more on the destruction caused or the characters involved and give a brief description of the damage? Any other tips would be appreciated.

Answer: If you're good at figuring out the overall, bird's eye sequence of the battle - as done by armchair military strategists or games players - that's certainly an asset. Since you have a chosen location, references to actual buildings and streets can lend an authenticity to the action.

However, what matters most is not the overall battle but how it affects the characters, in particular your point of view character. It's about what this person in particular perceives, how events affect him/her, and what they mean to him. Following one particular person's journey through the battle, even though it may exclude much of the action outside his perception, gives the reader the feeling of being there.

At the same time, consider giving the POV character some inner conflict. For example, could the events cause conflict between his values and his emotions? Or between his loyalties and his instinct for self-preservation? At the same time, consider his personal aims for this battle, which may be different or imperfectly aligned with the goals of those giving the orders. Naturally, every character is unique in this respect.

It helps to think about what will capture your character's attention from moment to moment. This may be, alternatively, his own thoughts and emotions, the state of the people around him, perceived threats, and events that catch him by surprize.

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